Shepherding is one of the oldest occupations in history. It is believed to have had its beginnings about 6,000 years ago in Asia Minor. In many societies shepherding was important to the economy. Shepherds were largely nomadic and lived solitary lives away from society.
The duties of a shepherd in an unenclosed country like Palestine were very (difficult). “In early morning he led forth the flock from the fold, marching at its head to the spot where they were to be pastured. Here he watched them all day, taking care that none of the sheep strayed, and if any for a time eluded his watch and wandered away from the rest, seeking diligently till he found and brought it back. In those lands sheep require to be supplied regularly with water, and the shepherd for this purpose has to guide them either to some running stream or to wells dug in the wilderness and furnished with troughs. At night he brought the flock home to the fold, counting them as they passed under the rod at the door to assure himself that none were missing. Nor did his labours always end with sunset. Often he had to guard the fold through the dark hours from the attack of wild beasts, or the wily attempts of the prowling thief.” 
Read John 10:1 -18
This talk happens after Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees and he accuses them of being unable to see (being spiritually blind) and as he gives account for healing the blind man (John 9).
Verse 1: “Truly, Truly”… some versions say “I tell you the truth” (Amen/Amen). At the beginning of a discourse Amen means “surely or this is the truth”. At the end of a talk the word amen means “so be it.”
Sheepfold – The part of a home that has a hall, or an area that is uncovered and walled in where the stables stood. This is where the shepherd would keep the flocks and they would abide there at night (providing they were close to home) for security and food. There was a formal door the shepherd would use to enter and exit which was guarded.
Thieves and robbers – (Probably referring to the religious leaders who want to control instead of guide and care for the sheep- who are the people). Anyone/anything who would attempt to enter the sheepfold by any other means than the door was there to steal, kill or harm the sheep. They would be entering illegally with intent to harm and steal.
Verse 2, 3: The only one allowed to enter the door is the shepherd and the sheep. At the door a gatekeeper is present and he knows the shepherd and gives access to the shepherd.
The sheep – The sheep belong to the shepherd and follow him because they know and trust he will watch, lead and keep them safe. He is their master and leader and they are devoted to him.
“He calls them by name” – The shepherd (no matter how large the fold) knows the names of the sheep and calls them by their names. He has a close personal relationship and investment in his flock.
Verse 4: The shepherd calls them, leads them and brings them out to pasture and water. He goes before the sheep and finds green pasture for the sheep to eat and watering holes for the sheep to drink. He also watches over the flock so nothing can harm the sheep. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd and they also know he cares for them and is committed to keeping them safe.
Verses 5: The sheep know the shepherds voice and will not follow a stranger. It doesn’t matter if the stranger knows all their names they will not follow. They don’t know the voice nor trust the person.
Verses 6: As Jesus used this figure of speech or metaphor of sorts the listeners were confused. Once again this is showing the spiritual blindness of the religious leaders.
Verse 7, 8: The Door: Jesus is not the shepherd (in this instance, but later refers to himself as the good shepherd in verse 11) but he is the door. He affirms this in verses 7 and 9. Jesus is the means to access to the fold. Know one can gain access to the fold without entering through the gate or the door. There are no other ways. In so many words Jesus is affirming the narrow-ness of becoming a member of the fold. There is only one way and it is through Jesus.
The sheep represent believers or followers of Jesus Christ. In order to enter the fold one must be a sheep. Seeing the loyalty, trust and dependency the sheep have on the shepherd it is no wonder we are called sheep because we are to have this same relationship with Jesus that a sheep has with its shepherd.
Thieves and robbers – As I noted earlier probably refers to the religious leaders of the time. It definitely represents anyone who tries to steal away the sheep or cause harm to any of them.
Verse 9: “I am the door” – D.A. Carson writes, “Here the idea is not that Jesus the shepherd draws out his own flock from a rather mixed fold, but that Jesus the gate is the sole means by which the sheep may enter the safety of the fold or the luxurious forage of the pasture… this is a proverbial way of insisting that there is only one means of receiving eternal life – Jesus alone.”
Anyone trying to enter the fold through any other means than through the door (Jesus) will be cast out. Entering through the door is synonymous to having saving faith in Jesus Christ. He is clearly establishing the “ground rules” if you will to having eternal life. In order for one to enter the fold (becoming a believer) they must first be called by the shepherd and willingly submit and commit to the shepherd (Jesus).
Verse 10: The thieves (religious leaders) have only come to destroy (manipulate power and control) but Jesus came to bring life and to give it in abundance. We often forget this small passage. Jesus didn’t just give us enough life so we can get through this life so when we die we get the goods. No, Jesus came to give life TODAY and give it in abundance. We are to live our lives for today seizing the opportunity to fully live our lives for his glory and with joy! I know Christians who are just living out their lives until they die and only long for heaven so they can leave this rotten world and most of them are miserable saps. Sure we should all long for heaven but we should also live our lives for Jesus today, tomorrow and in the years to follow. Jesus hasn’t just given us enough life to just get through this life… He has given us an abundance of life and we should take every opportunity to use it for his glory.
Verse 11: Verses 7 – 10 depict Jesus as the gate. Verses 11 -18 depict Jesus as the shepherd.
“The Good Shepherd” – The excellent, precious, competent, or able shepherd. What makes Jesus the good shepherd is the fact that he lays down his life for the sheep. Any good shepherd will risk his life for his sheep. He will fight off beasts; he will rescue them from dangerous places and he is willing to die in order to keep his sheep safe. However Jesus isn’t saying that he is just willing to risk his life for his sheep. When he says he lays down his life this is a matter of what is going to happen not what might happen if he needs to. He appoints his life for the sheep and he WILL die for his flock so they may be redeemed… this is a matter of fact.
D.A. Carson writes, “The shepherd does not die for his sheep to serve as an example, throwing himself off a cliff in a grotesque and futile display while bellowing, “See how much I love you?” No, the assumption is that the sheep are in mortal danger; that in their defense the shepherd loses his life; that by his death they are saved.”
Verse 12, 13: The hired hand is not the same as the robber and thieves. The hired hand is not necessarily evil (however he is not portrayed in a positive light). He is just the one who is in it for the pay. He does his job for the money. His concern isn’t for the sheep as much as it is about the payment for the work. The person who is hired and has no investment in the fold does not care genuinely as the one who owns. When things get rough for the hireling he can leave. Giving his life for the sheep is not an option because he is not willing to die for the sheep if ever needed.
Verse 14, 15: “I am the Good Shepherd…” Jesus knows those who belong to him. Take a moment and let that sink in. If you are a believer in Jesus it is because He called you by name, He chose you to be part of His flock; He willingly died for you so you can have an abundance of life.
The word “know” is an intimate word. It isn’t a general, “yeah I know her”, but has also been used as a Jewish idiom for intimate intercourse between a male and female. It is a type of “oneness”. Jesus is one with his flock. Our relationship with Jesus could/should be the same as the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Verse 16: “I have sheep that are not of this fold…” would probably refer to Gentiles. The Jews thought salvation was reserved for them alone because they were God’s chosen race. However we see Jesus tells us there are some sheep who are not of this fold who will hear his voice and respond. Thankfully Jesus expands his folds to us who are not of the Jewish fold.
Verses 17, 18: The Father and the Son’s love are directly linked to Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is a very interesting passage to me because Jesus GIVES HIS LIFE (it is not taken from him) in order to be raised again. Jesus’ death AND resurrection has always been the plan. It has always been plan A, B & C. The resurrection was not something God thought of after Jesus was crucified. Jesus went to the cross knowing he would live again.
Verse 18 tells us so much about the death and resurrection. You have probably heard a discussion or read an article about “who killed Jesus?” Was it the Romans? Was it the Jews? Was it sin? Was it humanity? The answer is none of the above. Jesus was not killed, he gave his life… He laid it down. He did it on his own accord. Jesus had/has authority over death. He submitted to it on his terms. In the same sense Jesus has the authority for resurrection. This authority was given by the Father.
If Jesus has the authority over death and the resurrection in his life can you trust he has authority over them in yours? Do you believe Jesus is willing and able to raise you up on the last day? We have no reason to fear death because death is subject to Jesus and we are in Jesus so death has no dominion over us. Sure we will all die one day but we also live in the hope and expectation that we will also be resurrected through the authority of Jesus.
I would encourage you to really take some time and think about this passage. Think about all that it entails in your life. Think about the willingness of Jesus to lay down his life for you. Think about how his sole purpose in coming to this earth was to show people the way to the Kingdom of God and provide a means of access to it. In believing and having faith in Jesus be assured that you have been given life and have been given it in abundance.
Easton, M. (1996, c1897). Easton's Bible dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
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I currently live in Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with 20 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful. I am currently serving at a church as an Associate Director of Discipleship.